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THE EARLY HISTORY OF NAUVOO
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY
EDWARDSVILLE, IL 62026-10^3
The Early History
Together with a Sketch of the People
Who Built This Beautiful City and
Whose Leaders SuflFered Persecution
and Martyrdom for Their
S. A. BURGESS, Historian
General Church Headquarters
U. S. A.
Elijah P. Lovejoy Memorial Library
Southern Illinois University
The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints in Nauvoo
A Brief Historical Sketch
The founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Lat-
ter Day Saints, Joseph Smith, was born at Sharon,
Vermont, the 23d of December, 1805. Ten years
later the family moved to Manchester, near Pal-
myra, New York,
During a revival in the early spring of 1820, held
by several different denominations, Joseph Smith
went into the woods to pray, under the advice of
James 1: 15: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him
ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and up-
braideth not; and it shall be given him." As a re-
sult, this boy of fourteen years received a vision of
his Savior and was informed that his heavenly Fa-
ther was about to do a great and marvelous work.
Then, the night of September 21, 1823, while en-
gaged in prayer, an angel appeared to him and
quoted Malachi 3 and 4, Isaiah 11, Acts 3 : 22 and 23,
Joel 2 : 22-32, and many other passages, and in-
formed him of the plates of the Book of Mormon
with a record of the people of this continent. On the
following day he was shown the plates. Each year
thereafter, on the same date, he visited the place
where the plates were deposited, until September 2k!,
1827, when he received the plates together with the
Breast Plate and Urim and Thummim.
Book of Mormon
His wife, Martin Harris, John Whitmer, and
Oliver Cowdery assisted by transcribing as he trans-
lated the Book of Mormon by the power of inspira-
tion and the use of the Urim and Thummim. On
the 11th of June, 1829, the copyright was taken out
and in August the book placed in the hands of the
printer. Eleven other witnesses were permitted to
see and handle the plates, and then the plates were
taken back by the angel. These men always af-
firmed and reaffirmed their testimony of the authen-
ticity of these plates and of the Book of Mormon.
At Kirtland, Ohio
The first normal organization of the church was
made on the 6th of April, 1830, at Fayette, New
York, at which time Joseph Smith and Oliver Cow-
dery were ordained as elders. Six took part in the
This remained, however, the headquarters of the
church for a very short time. The first missionaries
were sent to the west in October, 1830, and visited
Kirtland en route, where eventually many were bap-
tized. These missionaries then continued on to the
western boundary of Missouri, which they reached
in March, 1831. In January, 1831, President Jos-
eph Smith removed to Kirtland, and this place be-
came the headquarters of the church and so con-
tinued for several years.
Prophet cind leader of the Churxh of Jesiis Christ of
Latter Day Saints from its organization in 1830 to his
martyrdorii in 18 If Ji.'.
The Kirtland Temple, the only temple completed
in this age by direct command of God, was there
erected, the corner stone being laid July 23, 1833.
The work was pushed, the temple being completed
and dedicated on March 27, 1836. During this pe-
riod the High Priests and First Presidency were
called, the Presiding Bishopric, Quorum of Twelve,
and Quorum of Seventy organized, and the High
Council called, chosen, and ordained.
At Independence, Missouri
After the first missionaries reached Independence,
Jackson County, Missouri, in March, 1831, many
others followed, including Joseph Smith on a visit
in July, 1831. Kirtland was made a gathering place,
though Zion, or Independence, was made the central
place. The Temple Lot in Independence was dedi-
cated, a printing press secured, and the Book of Com-
mandments and Evening and Morning Star pub-
But Missouri, and especially western Missouri,
was settled from Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and
North and South Carolina. The people were decid-
edly favorable to slave ownership. Furthermore,
Missouri had been kept out of the Union for several
years on this question of slavery, and feeling had
run high until the Missouri Compromise had per-
mitted its admission. Ten years later the Latter
Day Saints, many of whom were from New Eng
land, came and settled, bought land, built homes, and
This difference on the slavery question doubtless
had much to do with their trouble and finally their
expulsion from the County of Jackson, and from
Missouri, although their religion and belief in reve-
lation was a contributing factor.
July 20, 1833, the printing office was destroyed.
Leaving Jackson County, settlement was made in
Clay County. But on June 29, 1836, protest was
made for fear they would settle there permanently,
so in August, 1836, they moved to the northeast and
settled in part of Ray County. Here they purchased
most of the best land, which was divided off and
made into Caldwell County. This county was
formed and set aside as a sort of reservation for the
Saints, but they were not allowed to live there.
Settlement was later made in Daviess County in
1837. These settlements were always made by writ-
ten agreement, so as to avoid difficulties so far as
possible. But despite this agreement, mobs formed,
and they were compelled to leave the State in 1838.
The two great reasons for their expulsion have
already been stated: The difference in social cul-
ture between the New Englanders who favored abo-
lition, and the slave-owning settlers; also the ques-
tion of religion. Many of these left in the winter
of 1838 and 1839, and by the latter year practically
the whole body had moved into Illinois near Quincy.
On May 1, 1839, the church purchased the Hugh
White farm outside of Commerce, for $5,000. This
farm consisted of one hundred thirty-five acres.
They also purchased Doctor Isaac Galland's farm
west of the White property.
On May 9 Joseph Smith left Quincy with his fam-
ily and arrived at Commerce, Illinois, on the 10th,
where he moved into the small log house on the
White farm on the bank of the Mississippi River.
This log house was built in 1823 or 1824 by Captain
White, and had been occupied by the government
agent, for Indians were quite numerous at that time
throughout Illinois, and there were some four hun-
dred or five hundred lodges of Sac and Fox Indians
in the vicinity, according to the History of Hancock
County. Across the river, Iowa was practically un-
organized territory. It had been recently a part of
the Territory of Wisconsin, but in 1840 it was the
Territory of Iowa, including the present States of
Iowa, Minnesota, and part of both North and South
Dakota. This log house of Captain White's was the
first Indian agency established in Illinois.
Building a City
On June 11 Theodore Turney built a house of logs,
in block 147 of the White purchase. Within a year
one hundred and fifty houses had been erected by the
Saints. On April 21, 1840, the name of the post
office was changed to Nauvoo (a Hebrew term signi-
fying a beautiful place). By the first of January,
1841, there was a population of 3,000. By 1844 the
number of inhabitants has been variously estimated.
Accuracy is not possible, as the settlement was made
between the decennial census of 1840 and that of
1850. Usually the number is stated as 25,000, but
some old settlers have urged that it was double that.
With a church membership of 200,000 to 250,000
and this the principal place and the headquarters
of the church, either figure would not be surprising.
Built at great expense and sacrifice.
An imyosing memorial to the faith of
Many substantial dwellings of brick and frame and
many of rock were erected.
The state legislature, December 16, 1840, granted
a very liberal charter. The charter made provision
for the Nauvoo Legion and the University of Nau-
voo. Immediately steps were taken to establish the
University of Nauvoo, and by February 15, 1841,
James Kelley, A. M., had been elected as president.
A building- committee was chosen, the work of educa-
tion pushed energetically, and a faculty chosen. By
fall several new members had been added to the
faculty, including Orson Pratt, Orson Spencer, and
Sidney Rigdon. All matters of education in the city
were transferred to the regents of the University of
On February 4, 1841, the Nauvoo Legion was or-
ganized with Joseph Smith as Lieutenant General;
J. C. Bennett, Major General; and Wilson Law and
D. C. Smith, Brigadier Generals. Such local organi-
zations were common at that time. Nauvoo was on
the frontier. Indians resided within the limits of
Chicago and elsewhere in Illinois.
The Nauvoo Temple
General Conferences and public meetings were
held in the grove in Nauvoo these first few years,
but the necessity of a meeting place was seen, and
as early as 1841 the erection of a temple was under-
taken. Stone was secured from a quarry on the
north side of the city in a river bed. The building
was completed far enough to be used in the summer
of 1844, though the upper auditorium was not plas-
tered, and the lower auditorium only temporarily ar-
ranged for meetings, and only a temporary baptis-
mal font had been placed in the basement.
After the death of Joseph Smith some further
work was done on the temple, but it was never com-
RUINS OF NAUVOO TEMPLE
This once beautiful temple finally was burned and for a
time stood in this manner, a monument to the wrath of
pleted. The temple was described by Charles Lan-
man in 1846 as Roman in style, intermixed with
Grecian and Egyptian. This building- was destroyed
by fire in 1848. Its ruins were used as a stone
quarry, and many buildings were erected from its
THE MANSION HOUSE
For mani/ years the
official residence of the
Prophet and the scene
of viany notable events
Among other buildings, the Nauvoo House was
started in 1841, and finished to the top of the win-
dows of the second story, A Masonic Lodge was
organized in Nauvoo, and on January 24, 1843, the
corner stone of a Masonic Temple was laid. This
building was completed April 5, 1844. The lower
two stories still stand.
Cause of Difficulties
The rapid growth of Nauvoo caused considerable
jealousy in the neighboring cities and towns. The
Saints were welcomed in 1839 and 1840, but in a
few years the critical situation, not only in Hancock
County but in the congressional district, became ap-
parent. At first both parties flattered the church
oflficers and the people of the city. This was one rea-
son for the liberal charter, including provision not
only for the University of Nauvoo and the legion,
but also for a municipal court to which was granted
the powers of habeas corpus. This last grant of
power was by no means unique. About the same
time the city of Alton was granted a municipal court
with similar powers, and later the city of Chicago.
Still in a short time this fact was made a cause for
additional offense against Nauvoo.
In the election of 1843, Mr. Walker, the Whig
candidate, had a plurality outside of Nauvoo of some
2,200 or 2,400. Nauvoo, however, cast a vote of
over 3,000 in favor of Mr. Hoge; this despite the
fact that Joseph Smith had voted for Mr. Walker.
From that time on the Whig press knew no limit to
The first home of the
Smiths in Nauvoo — a
house built in 1823 and
still standing tvell 'pre-
its rage and persistently attacked the city of Nau-
voo and the church. When in 1844 Joseph Smith
reluctantly permitted his name to be proposed as a
candidate for president of the United States, the
Democrats, finding they had nothing to gain, also
turned against the people of Nauvoo. The primary
basis of the trouble was undoubtedly political, ac-
cording to Governor Ford's History of Illinois. Also
these New Englanders of the church were abolition-
ists. Shortly before the Nauvoo trouble, Elijah J.
Lovejoy, an abolitionist, was killed in 1837 in Alton,
Illinois. He was regarded as a martyr to that cause.
As often happens in the case of a large city,
thieves in the vicinity many times retreated towards
the city, and Nauvoo was unjustly blamed for things
with which her citizens were not connected. Gov-
ernor Ford made a personal investigation and states
that the reports were greatly exaggerated, and if
the conditions of the community were compared to
Saint Louis or many other large cities, the number
found guilty would not be so great as in other large
cities. It was in this connection that the use of the
writ of habeas corpus had given some basis for the.
spread of false reports.
The rapid growth of the city, the large number of
people of one belief, is again illustrated by the fact
that the Nauvoo Masonic lodges were much larger
than any other in the State and appeared to menace
the control of the grand lodge of Illinois. Protests
were therefore made, not only from near-by towns
but as far away as the lodge of Quincy. The princi-
pal basis, however, of the trouble, was political and
the spread of false rumors because of prejudice
against their religion and belief in revelation, and
because of the growing size and power of the city.
The favorable reports of state officials, of minis-
ters and travelers who visited Nauvoo in the 40's,
cause us to believe that there was no just basis for
these rumors, and the messages and history of Gov-
ernor Ford definitely state that the rumors were the
result of gross exaggeration.
Death of Joseph Smith
The assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith at
Carthage on June 27, 1844, followed by the repeal of
the charter of the city of Nauvoo on January 13,
1845, led to the decline of the city. For a few years
every effort was made to continue to erect substan-
tial edifices, but the continued unrest in the city led
to the agreement of many to withdraw from Nauvoo.
A large part of these scattered throughout the
neighboring States. A few thousand, however, un-
der the leadership of Brigham Young and other
members of the Twelve, proceeded in 1846 across
Iowa to Kanesville or Council Bluffs, and thence to
Brigham Young and Utah
This faction led by Brigham Young was only a
small percentage of the original church, perhaps five
or ten per cent at the most. After their arrival at
Salt Lake City, all who went there were rebaptized.
New doctrines were introduced, such as Adam God
and blood atonement, and in 1852 a purported reve-
lation was presented to the church by Brigham
Young, favoring plural marriage. These doctrines
of Adam God, blood atonement, and polygamy, were
never tenets of the original church during the life-
time of Joseph Smith but were a departure from
the early faith and doctrine.
Shortly after the departure of the members of the
church, Etienne Cabot came to Nauvoo in the spring
of 1849 with his Icarian Community. They found a
ready-made town with houses and tilled fields. They
utilized buildings which were left and used stone
from the temple to erect others, but a few years
later this colony dissolved.
Reorganization of the Church
In the meantime, of the very many who followed
no faction, a few gathered in Wisconsin in 1852 and
started a reorganization of the church. The widow
of Joseph Smith, Emma Smith, had remained in
Nauvoo and left for only a short time during the
winter of 1846-47. A few months after her return,
Mrs. Smith was married to Major Lewis Bidamon,
December 27, 1847. Major Bidamon completed the
southwest corner of the Nauvoo House and erected
an office in the northwest corner, removing the
bricks from the other portions to complete the house,
and selling the bricks from the north wing.
Joseph Smith, the eldest son of Joseph Smith, con-
tinued to reside in Nauvoo, where he secured his
schooling. He was elected justice of the peace and
served for seven and one half years; he also served
for seven and one half years as school director.
In 1860 he affiliated himself with the Reorganiza-
tion, and at the Amboy Conference was chosen Presi-
dent of the church. He continued to reside in
Nauvoo, however, until 1865 or 1866, nearly twenty-
seven years, but then removed to Piano, Illinois,
which became headquarters of the church.
In October, 1881, the headquarters of the church
and Herald Publishing House were removed to
Lamoni, Iowa. Here Joseph Smith made his home
for over twenty-six years, until he removed to Inde-
pendence, Missouri, in 1906, where the other princi-
pal officers of the church shortly after were removed,
and where he passed away in December, 1914.
Frederick M. Smith was chosen as President by
the church in April, 1915, and under his direction
Independence, Missouri, was formally made the
headquarters of the church by the conference of
1920, recognizing what was already an accomplished
fact. The headquarters of the church are now fully
established in Independence, Missouri, where all of
the principal offices of the church are located.
Lamoni, Iowa, continues as the place second in
importance, with Graceland College and an Old
From the first, the Reorganized Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter Day Saints has denounced polygamy
and the other doctrines added by the church of
Utah. They have also emphasized, and still do, that
the original church never accepted nor had anything
to do with these doctrines. The Reorganized Church
was held the lawful successor or the continuation of
the original church by Judge L. S. Sherman in the
Kirtland Temple Suit, in the Court of Common Pleas,
Lake County, Ohio, in 1880.
A Court Decision
Then Judge John F. Philips, of the United States
Circuit Court for Western Division of the Western
District of Missouri, in 1894, in a thoroughly con-
tested action, also held that the Reorganized Church
was the lawful successor of the original church
founded in 1830. Also that these added doctrines of
polygamy and the like did not belong to the original
church. This was requisite in a suit to determine the
title to the Temple Lot in Independence, Missouri.
(See decision of John F. Philips, Judge, pp. 33-45.)
The United States Circuit Court of Appeal modi-
fied this decision, so far as it affected possession
of the lot, on the grounds of adverse possession and
laches. The important questions of succession and
responsibility for these objectionable doctrines were
not considered or modified.
Today in Nauvoo
During the summer over two thousand visitors,
many of whom are tourists, some from various parts
of the United States including Maine and Califor-
nia, visit Nauvoo. The pastor of the local congrega-
tion is the caretaker of the church property and con-
ducts visitors to the points of historical interest.
The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter
Day Saints still owns several of the old landmarks,
including the Old Homestead, the Mansion House,
and the Nauvoo House. They have a fine brick
church and a growing congregation. A reunion is
held here each year which is largely attended, not
only by those in the city but by those of the church
who come from distant parts.
It is still a place they love, though its glory is now
of the past. 16
Printed in .U. S. A.
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY
EDWARDSVILLE, fL 62026 -t©63
JUL 1 6 1999
811 01131 1704